One of the stories that has been making the rounds since the Covid-19 lockdown that began nearly six months ago is that the suicide rate in Nepal has gone up in that period. But has it?
Most media coverage tries to draw a correlation and causality between the lockdown, mental health and suicides, and use that to prove government inaction and incompetence on the issue.
Statistics about the number of suicides vary greatly depending on who is doing the counting. Even though the South Asian region does seem to have a relatively high suicide rate, the quality of data is so uneven that it may be too soon to claim that the lockdown has caused an increase.
In June and July, there were a slew of articles stating that there has been a 25% increase in the number of suicides in Nepal after the lockdown began. Similar numbers were picked up by other media, and was repeated so often that it has come to be accepted as the truth, stirring conversation among the youth about support and access to mental health.
However, such analysis comes with its shortcomings due to rudimentary analysis of the limited data that exists in the country. In fact, the authors of various reports themselves acknowledge several limitations on the availability of time-series data to make accurate comparisons with previous years.
However, that does not deter the media from using sensational titles to stories that often read, ‘Lockdown Leads To Increase in Suicides in the Country’. An overview of recent articles on the topic shows that they actually cite the same data source to reach opposite conclusions.
While most media are reporting an increase in the number of suicides, another article concluded Nepal’s suicide rate actually went down by 35% in 2019 compared to 2018. To find out the truth, we reviewed dozens of academic papers, journals, newspaper articles, and police records, but it was not easy to draw a credible conclusion.
A literature review of some of the research from the past decades suggests that the suicide rate (per 100,000 people) in Nepal swings widely from 3.7 to 24.9, depending on who is counting. (see table below).